Swimming in Fish


Fish swim by a variety of propulsive modes which allow them to operate at different levels of performance. To locomote effectively, fish must be able to reduce drag and maintain stability while efficiently generating thrust.

Keywords: swimming; fish; undulation; manoeuvrability; drag

Figure 1.

Fish swimming modes. Swimming by body and caudal fin movements becomes more concentrated toward the tail with a shift from undulation to oscillation. Appendicular swimming is associated with use of the dorsal and anal fins, a combination of both fins, and the pectoral fins. Shaded areas represent body regions and fins used for propulsion.

Figure 2.

Instabilities. Rotation about the longitudinal, transverse and vertical axes of a fish leads to instabilities in roll, pitch and yaw, respectively.

Figure 3.

Morphological specializations associated with swimming performance. Tuna are specialized for cruising, pike for acceleration, and butterfly fish for manoeuvrability. The generalist (e.g. bass) is a morphological compromise of the disparate specialized forms.


Further Reading

Blake RW (1983) Fish Locomotion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Breder CM (1926) The locomotion of fishes. Zoologica, NY 4: 159–256.

Gray J (1957) How fish swim. Scientific American 197: 48–54.

Lighthill J (1969) Hydromechanics of aquatic animal propulsion – a survey. Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics 1: 413–446.

Rosen MW and Cranford NE (1971) Fluid friction of fish slimes. Nature 234: 49–51.

Videler JJ (1993) Fish Swimming. London: Chapman & Hall.

Walters V (1962) Body form and swimming performance in scombrid fishes. American Zoologist 2: 143–149.

Webb PW (1975) Hydrodynamics and energetics of fish propulsion. Bulletin of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada 190: 1–158.

Webb PW (1984) Form and function in fish swimming. Scientific American 251: 72–82.

Weihs D (1973) Hydromechanics of fish schooling. Nature 241: 290–291.

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Fish, Frank E(Apr 2001) Swimming in Fish. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0001866]